Thursday, February 28, 2013

In Prepartion of Snowmegadon

I am typing this up while warming up next to the wood stove and drinking a cup of coffee. I have been out filling hay feeders up, making sure all diesel engines are filled up and plugged in and that I have a plentiful supply of feed in the barn. The weatherman is predicting “snowmegdan” and for some reason I believe him. Time will tell if this is an act of futility or a foreshadowing, but in any case two full days were spent preparing for the upcoming storm.
I also suspect that we are going to have a storm because of a couple of different indicators also. Yesterday the animals were very anxious, even bordering on crazy. It seems to me that they were sensing something coming and were a little nutty because of it. The other indicator, my knees, and one that I have found to be the best at predicting big storm systems. They have been aching and sore.
Fearing for the worst and hoping for the best I began my preparations and I admit that it is a good feeling to see the hay piled up in rows by the house, a large stack of firewood within arm’s reach of the back door, a large pile of feed sacks in the feed room and freshly scattered straw in the lambing barn. However, I still have that gnawing worry in my gut that 1) there is more I could do, 2) something will go wrong, and 3) there is nothing I can do about it. Over the years I have gotten quite good at worrying about things I have no control over.
I have to admit that I have spent some sleepless nights the past couple of days worrying about the forecast and the blizzard. We are getting calves fast and furious and we have many new babies on the ground and many will only be days or hours old when the snow arrives. I have tried to make warm (or warmer) places for them but there is only so much I can do. I know, tomorrow I will stand helplessly looking out the window, wondering how they are faring. I also know that it would be foolish to go check them and risk getting them up from the warm places their mothers have found for them.
The sheep will cause a different kind of worry. I have plenty of barn space for the ewes with lambs and the ewes who are about to lamb. They will be inside and protected from the blowing snow. My worry with them is that the electricity will go out and I will not have the heat lamps we depend on to keep the newborns warm. Again, I am not sure the worry is warranted because I am sure many ewes have lambed in the past without the benefit of heat lamps.
The wind will wake me up tonight, I will go look out to see what is happening and the worry will start. Chores will be a difficult proposition in the morning and the rest of the day will be spent watching the weather, looking at the radar and staring out the window at the barn and the pasture, I know I will have done as much as I possibly can to keep them safe, comfortable and healthy, but the gnawing wonder if I could have done more will be there.
The words of my wise old Dad will also be in my head (actually they will be pretty fresh because I will probably call him on the phone three or four times). “Do what you can and don’t worry about what you don’t have any control over.” Good advice, if I would follow it. I would also bet he will be doing the same thing and worrying. That is just what we do.
I guess that is just part of being a good steward of the livestock we are entrusted with. We do all we can to insure their well-being, even risking our own at times. We know that our livelihood and life’s work are wrapped up in those animals and we do all we can do to protect them. The bottom line is that there are times we just don’t have much control, and that is when the worry comes in.
I guess we need to focus on the good things that will come about with the impending storm. I will most likely get to spend quality time with my family, be able to drink my coffee by the woodstove and most importantly (at least to them) Killer, the cow dog and Jack, the bird dog will spend time inside. I know they are really excited about that. So put a second pot on, wait for the snow and we will see each other on the other side of “snowmegdan”.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Standing Up for Ag in Church

A couple of years ago I subscribed to a newsletter about agriculture that my church, the Presbyterian Church USA, was putting out. It came as a great shock that some of the information in this newsletter was a direct attack on my chosen profession and my way of life. Articles in the newsletter railed against the Farm Bill, gmo crops and modern agriculture production methods. According to many of the articles we were destroying the environment, running farmers in other countries out of business and causing starvation around the world.
I believe in giving everyone the benefit of the doubt and sent the editor of the newsletter an e-mail explaining my point of view. I simply said that as Ag producers we utilize technology like gmo crops to protect our environment. I said it was my belief that God gave us this technology to feed a growing world population. I went on to say that our congregation was made up of good Presbyterians, some who made a living feeding all of God’s people. I concluded my e-mail by inviting him to come visit our farm so he could see what we do.
So what was his response? He dropped me from the newsletter mailing list and chose not to respond to any e-mails. I can tolerate differences in opinion and I welcome a dialogue about issues related to agriculture. I cannot stand just being shut out. I also started doing a little more research and found that this newsletter was just the tip of the iceberg.
I found many blogs on our church related website written about topics such as eating organic foods, promoting the abolition of pesticides (with links to anti-pesticide websites), complaining about corporate farms and encouraging church members to lobby congress for certain parts of the Farm Bill. In more than one blog I also found links to a program to make your church “green”.
Now I am certainly not against saving our valuable resources so I went to look at this program. Most of the program I could go along with, but I came to one item that made my blood boil. It encouraged congregations to consider becoming vegetarians and/or vegans to protect the environment from the greenhouse gases produced by animal agriculture. Wow, this was something I had heard from HSUS. So I decided to see what HSUS had to say about my church.
To my surprise they had a document on their website about the Presbyterian Church. Most of it was snippet’s that they twisted and misquoted to their benefit, but they did link directly to one devotional offered again on the church website. This multi-week study encouraged healthier eating by choosing organic foods and by promoting a vegetarian diet. In many places it stated that we would all be better off if we bought all of our food locally from small family farmers.
That is a debate I will not get into today, but the bottom line is that my church was lobbying against my profession and all of this was done without any input from farmers and ranchers within the denomination.
Am I going to change my church affiliation? No, but I am going to make sure my voice is heard and lobby to add farmers and ranchers into the dialogue about food and the environment. Let me also assure you that, no matter what denomination you belong to, this same zealous activism is part of your church also. That is OK, this is the United States and we all have a right to our opinion. I question whether the debate about the Farm Bill is something a church should engage in, but again another topic for another day.
 I hope in all of this I have opened a dialogue with other church leaders and that I can find some way to offer my expertise. My point is that we all need to be involved and aware of what is being said about agriculture in all aspects of our lives, including our churches. We need to be ready to offer guidance, information and education at anytime and to anyone. Hopefully they will also be willing to hear us out and to listen with an open mind.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Slippery Slope of Gun Control

This past week I went into Wal-Mart to purchase some ammunition. When I asked the clerk he said that my purchase would be limited to three boxes of .22 ammunition. Now I had planned on only buying two boxes but when given that challenge I bought three instead. Was this a great marketing ploy by Wal-Mart or something else? I lean toward marketing ploy.
It was the next question that really got me going. The clerk then asked me if the ammunition was going to be used in a rifle or a pistol. My response was to ask him why he needed to know. He said it was for inventory purposes. OK, for my non-shooting friends, it makes no difference at all whether the ammunition is shot through a pistol or a rifle. It is all the same.
I then told him that it really wasn’t any of his or Wal-Mart’s business. However, if he had to put something down, he could pick.  I assured him that it was legal for me to buy the ammunition and that I was going to use it for legal purposes and that was all he really needed to know. I made my purchase and walked away wondering what had just happened.
The past couple of weeks I have watched the gun debate from a distance as it raged on both in person and through social media. I am an unabashed gun owner and avid hunter. I own my guns for sport but I would not hesitate to protect my family. I believe it is my right as a citizen of the United States to own my firearms and that is not up to debate. I also think it is important that you know where I stand.
However, I also pride myself as a reasonable person and I try to see both sides of an issue. So I listened to my friends who are in favor of more gun control laws and considered their points. That was until last week and my experience at the sporting goods counter. I thought it was time I expressed my opinion.
I have two thoughts when it comes to more gun control laws. My first thought goes back to my days of being an Extension Agent. Over the years I have seen many rules put into fair books because of an incident. It is never a good idea to create rules (or laws) in the heat of the moment. New rules or laws should only be approved after a great deal of thought and discussion.
I have also found that a thicker rule book only manages to trip up the innocent. Those intent on cheating (or breaking the law) will find a way to do so, no matter how many rules (or laws) you make. Rather than making new laws it is much better to focus on enforcing those already in place.
The other thought I had came from my work advocating for agriculture. Imposing new laws or regulations proposed by activists is a slippery slope. In the world of agriculture it began with the public giving in on gestation crates. It was just a small number of farmers who utilized them and most of us involved in agriculture did not really understand how they were used. We were slow in coming to their defense and before we knew it gestation crates were banned in a couple of states. Animal rights activists were emboldened by their victories and pushed in for more restrictions on animal agriculture.
I do not own a firearm like those being discussed, nor do I own a clip that will hold more than ten shells but I also do not think banning them will make people safer. It will, however, make it easier to consider bans or limits on other firearms. Once started down a slippery slope it is hard to put the brakes on.
Those are my thoughts on this matter and it is OK if you disagree with me. Debate and consideration of all points of view is what makes this country great.  I only ask that careful consideration be put into lawmaking and the rights of all be considered

Sunday, February 10, 2013

No Lazy Snow Days Here

You have to love the weather in Kansas. On Monday night we went out at the 10:00 pm ewe check in shirt sleeves. Two days later we woke up to four inches of snow and single digit wind chill. It is awfully tough on new lambs and calves, but at least we had a couple of days to prepare for the worst. Say what you want about the weather but it is never the same here on the plains and it keeps life interesting.
This morning broke (I say broke because we were long up before the dawn and I certainly felt broken) cold, windy and most importantly snowy. Jennifer and I turned on the TV as we got ready to go do chores and saw the crawl across the screen proclaiming the day a snow day for our school district. That meant a lazy day of sleeping in and playing in the snow for most kids. Yes most kids, but not my kids.
Sure we took pity on them and let them go back to bed (it was 5:30) and sleep for another hour. Actually it was not the kids that we were taking pity on but the animals. Normally we all go out at 5:30 check and feed the animals in the barnyard. However, this cold snowy morning Jennifer and I decided on a quiet, stealthy check of the barn trying not to disturb anything. The ewes and lambs would be much better off and warmer undisturbed in the fresh bed of straw we had put out the night before.
Wake up calls were served and plans were made over breakfast on how to attack the chores. Extra care was needed to make sure that all of the new lambs were healthy and relatively warm. The decision was made to feed outside and then shut the ewes back in the barn and that meant water needed to be moved into the barn. Hay was thrown, feed put out and water was moved. I guess that is our idea of playing in the snow.
When everything was fed and bedded in the barnyard it was time to go out and check cows. Remember that bull that wouldn’t stay home last spring(I am happy to say that he is coming to a McDonalds near you, but that is another story for another day), it seems those rendezvous moved my calving up about a month. With three calves already on the ground, thorough morning checks of the cows are now part of my morning routine.
We plowed through the drifts to get to the pasture and a quick check revealed a new surprise conceived last April. Fortunately both cow and heifer calf did not seem fazed by the near arctic conditions. The cow was an older one and she had picked a good spot out of the wind. With the extra help the calf was quickly checked, tagged and released back to mama. We made our way back to the house re-opening the drifts that had filled back in during our jaunt to the pasture.
We were back into the house at a little after 8:30 am and the morning’s events were discussed over coffee and hot chocolate. I am sure that many of my kid’s classmates were still in bed. I am sure of this because that fact was mentioned a couple of times. The wood stove was stoked and the process of thawing out, for the first time, was initiated. I say for the first time because nearly hourly checks will be made of the lambs and ewes during the day. Each one of these excursions will also necessitate thawing out by the wood stove.
I am sure my tale of my kid’s snow day is not any different than any other farm kid in the neighboring two or three counties. Inclement weather provides many challenges, especially when newborn animals are thrown into the mix, those challenges require that all hand need to be on deck. Keeping the chores done and animals care for is definitely a family activity.
Days like this are what makes farming and ranching such a unique way of life. At an early age farm kids quickly learn that there are no days off or days when work is cancelled due to inclement weather. They also realize that family activities and farm work have a way of morphing into each other. So while other kids may have been snuggled in their warm beds enjoying their snow day, my kids were bundled in their coats and overalls enjoying their snow day just as much.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Ag Lessons Learned from Text Books

Last week my daughter brought one of her text books home, not to study, but to show me something she found troubling. It was a picture of a lady standing next to a booth marked organic vegetables and the caption said “Protect our planet and support responsible farmers”. I have to admit, I found it more than troubling, I found it down right offensive.
We discussed the picture and the caption. She asked me what they meant. My answer was that it seemed to me to imply that because we were not organic, we were not responsible farmers. “But Dad” she said, “We are responsible and we do take care of our farm.” Wow, maybe she had listened to me for all those years. Needless to say, I was extremely proud of her for recognizing that a) the picture and caption had no place in a science text book and b) the word organic does not automatically mean responsible.
Please don’t misunderstand me; I do believe many of my organic fellow farmers produce their crops in a responsible manner. I have nothing against those who chose to produce crops and livestock organically. There is a market and a demand. Consumers who want organic food have the right to make that choice. Organic producers also have a right to produce their crops organically. Organic producers are feeding the world also and for that I salute them, we are on the same team.
However, I do have a problem with the idea that those of us who produce crops and livestock in a conventional manner are not responsible. I find it even more of a problem with that idea being conveyed to youth through a school text book. Text books are supposed to be unbiased and contain facts. The notion that utilizing the best in the advances in technology to produce more food on fewer acres for a growing population is not responsible is absurd.
 We take the advances in technology to grow more food with a much smaller impact on the soil and water we depend on. We utilize the best innovations agriculture has ever seen to produce the food we all need with fewer inputs. Farmers and ranchers take advantage in the advances in modern veterinary science to produce meat that is both safer and healthier for consumers. If that is not responsible then maybe I should go back to school.
Aside from that issue, I am not happy about the subtle propaganda that our students are being exposed to. The picture and caption in this text book probably went unnoticed by most. It was a simple bit of information that went into the minds of most of the students. This isn’t the first time that I have heard of something like this being embedded in a text book, I wonder how many times a student comes across these subtle messages and how big an impression they make.
It only underscores the need to become involved in our schools, to look at the information the text books contain and to offer a fair and balanced message. Programs like Ag in the Classroom are so important because we are providing classroom teachers with good and truthful information about agriculture. We are equipping them with sound science based facts to pass on to their students.
My daughter made me proud for recognizing the slanted nature and idea of the picture. She brought the topic up to her teacher, who agreed with her. She also wanted to let me know what was being said and wanted to know what to tell her friends. “Tell them about what we do and why we do it,” was my response to her.  I went on to tell her,” you have a couple of cows and a few ewes and you are a producer of food, tell your story.”
Every one of us involved in agriculture need to be open to telling our story. That story is; whether organic or conventionally produced the food in your grocery store is produced responsibly. It is produced by farmers and ranchers, many who have operated those farms and ranches for generations. All of whom are proud (and responsible) producers of the food we all need. That you can put in any text book.